New York 2014 Review: THE BLUE ROOM Shows Off Mathieu Amalric's Directing Chops
It starts with Julien and Esther in the throes of sweaty, passionate lovemaking in a French door shuttered, stifling hotel room. In the heat of passion, she bites his lips and he bleeds. "Did it hurt?" "No, it's fine." "Would your wife notice it?" "I'll just tell her that I ran into a post." They tell each other sweet nothings. It's a thoughtless pillow talk for him, but for her, it's something more. "Could you spend the rest of your life with me?" "Sure."
Julien has a comfortable life, he manages a successful John Deere dealership, has an upbeat blonde wife and a daughter. It's his passivity that becomes his downfall. It's not that he is unhappy with life, but he finds the enigma of Esther too irresistible. Before we know it, Esther's ill husband is found dead and Julien's wife strangled. All the things Esther said, as Julien recalls in a series of police interrogations, have ominous significance for the crime(s). "If I am suddenly free, would you be free too?" After Esther's husband's death, he gets a cryptic message from her in two words, "Now You."
The Blue Room feels completely opposite of the much improvised, free wheeling, 8 1/2-esque, On Tour, a film which Amalric won the Best Director award for at Cannes a few years back. It is an extremely measured film with subtle performances.
The 1:33 aspect ratio comes across as not as an aesthetic choice but a psychological one, to show Julien's unwitting confinement in the situation. Stéphanie Cléau who co-adapted the book with Amalric, and not a trained actor, plays the role of Esther. There is not a hint of a dark side in her unassuming beauty. But that's why she is so perfect for this completely illegible role.
The film still works as a whodunit thriller, but we never get to find out who killed who. In a breezy 76 minute running time, Amalric rightly concentrates on Julien's distant passivity rather than making a psycho killer out of Esther. It's a hard one to enjoy, yes, but from the restrained performances to the noir plotting and technical craft, there is a lot to admire in this film. It definitely shows Amalric's ability as a director, easily proving himself that he's not only a mere actor.
The Blue Room plays part of NYFF 2014. It plays on 9/29 and 9/30. Please visit FSLC website for more info.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on the world can be found on www.dustinchang.com